Build Resilience to Cope with Arthritis

Learn strategies to keep mentally and physically strong despite challenges living with arthritis and dealing with uncertainty. 

Living with arthritis can be unpredictable, but having a resilient attitude, or being able to rebound and learn from challenges, can help you take control and thrive.

Whether it’s dealing with a flare or anxiety from a virus outbreak, having a chronic disease poses regular, and often immense, psychological and physical setbacks, says Robert Wicks, PsyD, a professor at Loyola College in Maryland and author of Bounce: Living the Resilient Life.

“You have to be able to cope with them in order to care for yourself. Resilience is the difference between making arthritis one part of your story and [allowing it to be] your entire narrative," he says. 

Research shows that people who demonstrate higher levels of resilience tend to recover faster, manage pain better, be less susceptible to chronic depression and anxiety and have better overall health outcomes than those who are less resilient. 

“Resilience impacts thoughts and, therefore, behavior in profound ways,” says Chicago-based psychologist and physical therapist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD. “A less resilient person experiencing a flare might think, ‘Well, I can’t exercise,’ or ‘My doctor isn’t helping me enough.’ A resilient individual thinks, ‘How can I improve my situation? What can I do to get moving again?’”

Build Your Resilience

Experts agree that some people seem to be naturally resilient, but a wealth of research shows others can develop it and bolster their buoyancy. “It’s a skill that can be developed and honed over time,” says Wicks.

Try these strategies to build your resilience – and bounce back better:

Focus on the upside. Studies show that optimism is key to fostering resilience; the more hopeful you feel, the more resilient you’ll be. Boosting your optimism requires you to reframe your experience so you’re aware of the negative but focused on the positive. Ask yourself three questions: “Does this provide new opportunities? Can I look at this differently? Is there any good to come out of it?"

Learn from experience. If you have a chronic disease, you’re already more resilient than you probably give yourself credit for. When you’re dealing with a new setback, that’s the time to ask yourself, “How have I dealt with problems in the past? What worked, and which strategies should I skip this time?” 

Expand your knowledge. Ask lots of questions when you’re at the rheumatologist’s office, and regularly read up on arthritis and health. The more you learn about how best to live with your condition, the more control you have. Control and resourcefulness give you confidence to move forward.

Be your own cheerleader. Before your diagnosis, you applied your strengths and know how to solve problems in many areas of your life. And there were probably times when you felt you wouldn’t overcome a challenge but proved yourself wrong. Remember your past achievements whenever you’re faced with an unexpected situation to fuel your drive to find solutions and thrive.

Find your bliss. Make time to find and do things you love. Joy, satisfaction and interest can give you a mental time out from stress and boost your optimism. Social distancing from an outbreak like the coronavirus can give you ample time to explore new hobbies.

Get moving. In addition to its physical benefits, exercise decreases anxiety and depression, improves sleep and increases the levels of mood-improving chemicals in your brain.

Seek support. Support systems are a cornerstone of resilience. “If you don’t feel like you have to go it alone, it’s much easier to push forward when the going gets tough,” explains Wicks. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Chances are that your loved ones want to help and are simply waiting for you to ask. The Live Yes! Arthritis Network is full of people who understand what you’re going through and ready to support you. Nothing fuels resilience like a support system who believes in you and cheers you on.

Count your blessings. People who express gratitude or regularly write in a gratitude journal feel more connected, autonomous, optimistic and happy – traits that contribute to resilience. “Gratitude makes you think about what you have, which, in turn, keeps you from focusing on what you don’t have,” says Wicks. “When you feel blessed, it’s easier to keep going – no matter what you’re up against.”  

Every day living with arthritis is different but cultivating a more resilient attitude can prepare you for the challenges ahead.

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